During the first half of the 19th century, the well-educated Farley family lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where they had ties to the shipping trade.
Major General Michael Farley held several public offices: he was active in the Massachusetts General Court; he served as a delegate to the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts (1774-1775); he was the sheriff of Essex; and he was a member of the State House of Representatives. During the Revolutionary War, Farley fought for the Continental Army and was appointed to major general of the Militia of Massachusetts in 1777. He died on June 20, 1789, at age 70.
Michael Farley's son, Jabez Farley (c.1755-1836), lived in Ipswich and had two wives and nineteen children. His first wife Lucy Rogers, daughter of Nathaniel Rogers, died in childbirth in 1788. His second wife was Susanna Swasey (c.1768-1843), daughter of Major Joseph Swasey (d. 1817). Jabez fought with the minutemen in the Revolutionary War.
Henry Wise Farley was born in 1795 to Jabez and Susanna Farley. He studied medicine at Harvard and graduated in 1815. Shortly thereafter, Henry moved west, settling successively in Ohio, Arkansas, and Louisiana. He eventually gave up his medical practice, having found a surplus of physicians in the west. Between the mid-1820s and 1830s, he ran a sugar plantation in Louisiana, originally using only free labor, in keeping with the anti-slavery sentiments of his family. As time went on, however, he became an increasingly vehement defender of slavery. He migrated to the Republic of Texas, where he briefly served as surgeon to the Republican army. He died in 1892.
Henry's sister, Susan Charlotte (1809-1858), remained in Boston until 1834, when she, too, migrated to the west, settling in Michigan. Susan Farley was an observant, highly literate woman, who commented extensively on both political and family matters. Among the 19 Farley siblings were Jabez Farley Jr., Amy Farley (who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts), and Lucy Mary Farley (who was living in Boston by 1821). Also mentioned in the letters are James A. Farley, who was a nephew of Henry, and Tacy Anna Bevan Stacey (1774-1831), sister-in-law of Susanna Swasey Farley. Many members of the Farley family were buried in Ipswich, Massachusetts.